Sweet peas were my grandfather’s favorite flower. My mother loved them too. So it’s no surprise that I inherited that floral gene myself.
Memories are precious, and here on Memorial Weekend I’d like to share a story of my grandfather, a World War I veteran—and sweet peas.
In his prime, Grampa Charlie stood at 6’3” and weighed in around 220 pounds. He’d graduated from Central Washington Normal School and taught school for two years outside Tacoma. Then he earned a law degree from the University of Washington, but he never used it. In his heart, he was always a farmer.
Gramps liked working with his hands, liked to till the earth and watch things grow, and took pride in baling his own hay to feed his dairy cows
“Take a bite of this,” he said long ago, slicing off a portion of an apple with his pocketknife. “Know what kind of apple that is?”
“Smell it,” said Gramps.
Dutifully, I sniffed the apple, but it didn’t reveal any useful clues.
“That’s a Gravenstein,” he explained. “Sweeter than a McIntosh. Comes on right after the Transparents and earlier than the Kings. Gravensteins are best for eating off the tree—and for making applesauce.”
I chewed my piece of apple and nodded thoughtfully, trying hard to remember everything he ever tried to teach me.
Fast-forward a few years, and now Gramps and I claimed the same alma mater. He gave me his old brass school bell “to call the kids in from recess,” and his rubber-tipped pointer “so you can point to things on the map without getting in the way.”
Another decade went by, and it nearly broke my heart when it became a necessity that Gramps, at age 94, move into a care facility where there were people who were better equiped to help him with his day-to-day challenges.
Gramps was a World War I veteran, and we found the perfect place for him to be with other men with his background. At first I worried that the people we entrusted his care to wouldn’t really listen to him; that he’d be just another old war vet.
When I went to see him one day and found his bed empty, I asked at the closest nurses’ station where I could find him. “Chuck’s out back,” I was told.
“Chuck? Who’s Chuck?”
“Well,” said the young nurses’ aid, “We already had a Charles and two Charlies, so your Grandfather said we could call him Chuck, because that was what they called him in college.”
“I never knew that.” I smiled and shook my head as I went on out the back doors.
“Chuck” was sitting in his wheelchair on the lawn, gazing out over the water.
“Hey Gramps!” I called.
He turned and smiled. “Lookie what they did for me.” He gestured to the nearby mason wall of the rest home.
A 10-foot row of colorful sweet peas had been planted along the wall, and the prolifically blooming plants were climbing up a trellis. A sign next to the flowers read “Chuck’s Pea Patch.”
“They really care for you here, don’t they Grampa Charlie?” I finally choked out.
“They call me Chuck,” said Gramps. “I like that.”
I liked that, too, and I never gave another thought to quality of his care.
I laughed. “What do you need?”
“Sunday mornings we serve breakfast here at the Eagle’s,” she said, following my lead and cutting straight to the point. “And we can always use more help.”
For a mere $7., that’s seven dollars, mind you, there’s always a choice of four hearty breakfasts, which include some combination of eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, pancakes, French toast, regular toast and/or English muffin, and perhaps a special or two thrown in, based on the “leftovers” from a previous dinner. And plenty of coffee!
The morning I arrived to help, there was also a fabulous chicken fried steak and a Denver scramble, both going like hotcakes, so to speak.
Although there’s a good reason I’m not well known for my cooking, I can certainly make toast, so that was my primary job. As it turns out, I’m also adept at arranging bacon on a huge tray for the oven, and I’m pretty good at following directions. Who knew?
So yes, I’ll be returning to help out on occasion, and yes, I’ll be having breakfast there from time to time as well. For the money, you just can’t beat it. Come join us some Sunday; you’ll be glad you did!
The weather in McMinnville on Saturday was less than stellar—gray, overcast, and a threat of sprinkles that materialized just as the parade began. I hadn’t thought I’d be able to attend the UFO Festival this year, but apparently the Universe had other ideas.
Saturday’s parade down 3rd Street was a gathering of self-styled lunar loonies for at least a hundred-mile radius. I can say that without reservation because I live over 100 miles from McMinnville and I was there after all—in costume, of course.
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the things “out there” that cannot be, or have not been, fully explained to my satisfaction. Sasquatch, Nessie (the Loch Ness monster), “flying saucers” or UFOs of any type, even God—it’s an interesting list I ponder.
But if Roswell’s 1947 “UFO Incident” means nothing to you, then you’re probably not going to remember Farmer Trent, either. He lived just outside McMinnville, and was responsible for photographing the controversial flying images of 1950.
Ah, well… Not everyone enjoys a good game of “dress up,” but I totally identify with eclectic and quirky people and fun festivals a little off the beaten path.
“A little off…” Yep, that’s describes me to a T!
A year ago this weekend, a friend and I attended the annual UFO Festival in McMinnville. We both dressed up in self-styled “alien” costumes, and enjoyed perusing the vendor booths, watching the parade, and dancing in the street to various bands.
A few weeks later, I wrote the lyrics to a song I called “Alien Girlfriend.” Then my friend wrote some specialized sci-fi music for my poem, and sang along. When he sent the first draft to me, I played it for Rick, who laughed out loud.
“You wrote that?” Rick asked, incredulously. “I love it! Send me a copy!”
At first I thought that was more than a little weird. Whenever Rick answered my calls it played on his phone, which would have been embarrassing, but of course, I never called him when I was with him!
Last year, Rick had wanted to attend the Festival, but he knew he was too weak to make it from where we’d have to park the car to the downtown parade route. He wouldn’t have been able to stand and/or walk around all day, and any attempt at dancing would have been totally out of the question.
“You guys go and have fun,” he told me last May. “I’ll go next year.”
This weekend it is “next year,” and sadly, neither Rick nor I will be attending.
However, “Alien Girlfriend” will be performed at the Willamette Radio Workshop sometime during the festival, and I know, absolutely, positively, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Rick would have loved it.
In February, he told me he wanted to have one more Christmas. “Cheri got one more Christmas, and I want one too. And I want to spend it down at the beach, with you.”
Rick spent the past Christmas in the hospital. The last time he’d been well enough to visit my home on the peninsula had been the previous July. Nevertheless, I wasn’t about to discourage him in the least.
“Do you think I can make it?” he asked, carefully studying my face.
I softly smiled. “The next time you come to Long Beach, I one hundred percent promise you we’ll have Christmas, no matter what!”
What I didn’t tell him was that I still had plenty of Christmas decorations still up. It was a special surprise I had waiting for him.
“Of course you will.”
But the Universe had other ideas.
I had already bought him a birthday card. It was the perfect card for him, capitalizing on an inside joke we shared. It had a cartoon space alien in a flying saucer on the front, and the inside said, “Take me to your cake!”
I wrote him a final love letter, and tucked a metal angel token and his Regal Cinemas membership card inside the envelope. How Rick loved his movies!
After the flag ceremony, the man at Willamette National Cemetery assured me my card would be buried with his urn.
I will always love you, my Big Cuddle Bear, and I sincerely wish I’d told you about leaving up all those holiday decorations. Better yet, I wish you were here right now so we could celebrate just one more Christmas together.
XOXOX, Your LCB